Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease expert and a chief proponent of Covid vaccines, sharply criticized the "extreme" ideological divide that he said has led to a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths among Republicans compared to Democrats.
In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt that aired Wednesday night, Fauci said he thought political viewpoints had a measurable effect on the number of people who could have been saved by the coronavirus vaccines.
"I mean, differences in ideology are healthy. It’s part of our democracy, part of what makes our country great. But when they get so extreme that it prevents you from doing something that’s lifesaving, that is really awful," he said on "Nightly News."
Several studies have found that Covid deaths are unevenly distributed among Republicans and Democrats. One study, published in September by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that so-called excess death rates, or deaths elevated beyond what is expected based on historical trends, were 76% higher in Florida and Ohio among Republicans than Democrats from March 2020 to December 2021.
“The degree of divisiveness in this country right now has really led to such a polarization that it has interfered with an adequate science-based public health response,” said Fauci, who was a member of former President Donald Trump's Covid task force.
“I mean, it’s just extraordinary that you have under-vaccination in red states and good levels of vaccination in blue states, which gets translated into a disproportionate amount of suffering and death among Republicans compared to Democrats,” he added. “That’s completely crazy.”
Fauci was asked whether he regretted how he handled congressional hearings in which he was personally attacked — including by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who frequently criticized Fauci's handling of the pandemic.
"I think 99.9% of the time, I have been my usual self, which is very calm and measured," Fauci said. "The only time I really got upset was when Senator Paul, totally inappropriately, on national TV, that was following that hearing, accused me of being responsible for the death of 5 million people. Now, with all due respect, I’m not going to take that from anybody, including a senator. ... When you start off by, you know, being accusatory based on no evidence whatsoever and making a slanderous comment that that has to go answered, you can’t let that go unanswered."
Fauci is scheduled to appear Friday at a virtual town hall hosted by the White House urging people to get Covid boosters ahead of the winter holidays, in what is likely to be one of his last public appearances as President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser. Fauci announced in August that he would step down at the end of the year.
Fauci also said over the summer that he would leave his job at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he has directed since 1984. But he said he does not plan to retire.
In his interview, Fauci reiterated that he is "not even close" to retiring.
Fauci previously told NBC News he is exploring plans that could include work in academia, for a foundation or on his own, adding that he is “highly likely” to write a book.